Taken From North 21
Interview by Neil Macdonald (@scienceversuslife)
Portrait by Sam McKenna
Photography by Graham Tait
You're just back from a trip, right?
Yeah, I just went to South Carolina for a couple of days with some homies. My buddy Pete and his friends showed us around. It was pretty cool, there are some good spots. We were in Columbia, which is a small city, but they've got some good shit to skate. You know where Cyrus [Bennett] had that Transworld cover, going off the roof into the bank? We saw that in person, very gnarly.
So you've been on 5Boro for a while now, but you only recently moved to New York City... How come you didn't move sooner? I mean I know it's expensive, but...
That's a good question. I was 5Boro flow for a couple of years, taking the bus to New York to skate, and going to school for a two-year degree. I wanted to finish that first, but since I was skating all the time and working, it took over three years to complete. During that time I moved to Philly, living off money I had saved up. I skated as much as I could. Unfortunately our living situation ended so I moved home and got a job delivering pizza with the idea of saving up to move to New York. I was doing that for a while, and I met my girlfriend Merrilee and we started dating in 2016. We both ended up graduating in 2017. She took a year off while I was finishing the video I was working on for the local skate shop. Once that was over it was 2018.I was thinking, "If I don't move to New York now, I don't know if it's ever going to happen..." The pizza place I worked at closed so got another job, which turned out great because now I was making way more money. Luckily I was able to move in with Danny Falla, so big shout out to him. It worked out well I’m stoked to be here.
I was going to ask how much the 5Boro guys helped with getting you to New York, but if you moved in with Danny Falla, that kinda answers that.
Pretty much. I looked around and talked to a couple of people about getting a place, but luckily for me, Jimmy McDonald was moving out of Danny's spot. He'd been there for a few years and was about to move in with his girlfriend, so a spot opened up and it worked out. I couldn't have done it without those guys.
5Boro has always seemed really tight. I imagine you guys all hang out together anyway.
Yeah, if you're gonna be on 5Boro you've got to be down with the crew, and the crew has to be down with you. People come and go and the team has gone through a lot of changes over the years but there’s a great legacy of people who have ridden for 5boro and who still do today.
Are you having to work a day job for now?
I work at Whole Foods. I was able to move here because I had that job and if you work for that company and you want to move somewhere you can transfer. So I have a job and a spot to live, I couldn’t be happier!
Whole Foods is kinda new over here, but it's super expensive. It's high-end.
Oh, I didn't know it was international. It's pretty expensive, yeah. I guess you could say it's high-end; it's definitely more expensive than your average store but they take a lot of pride in what they carry. Folks who want to eat healthier, gluten-free, or organic shop there.
There's more of those people now than ever.
Yeah, It seems like there’s more people now who shop there, especially since Amazon bought it. I'm glad I have a job that allows me to afford New York. And if I ever wanted to live somewhere else, I could keep my job. Or if I wanted to work in a different store in the city I could do that too.
So where in New York City do you and Danny live?
In Brooklyn. not far over the Williamsburg bridge, which is great being so close to Manhattan. We usually hit up Blue Park which is skating distance. Borough Hall downtown and Chauncey ledges in Bushwick isn’t far. Couldn’t have found a better spot between the city and work.
Is it hard for you to keep tricks for video parts rather than just post them straight away?
Like a lot of other people, I grew up skating before social media, waiting for full length videos to come out. Most of the time if I'm filming with somebody, I'll hold onto those clips until a project is ready to come out. Sometimes that takes a really long time! My friend Zach Sayles is about to put a video out we’ve been filming for about four years. If I post something VX or HD, it’s usually from a video part, or it's leftover footage that will never be used for a video part. But I'll post a cellphone clip or a photo too, you know? I post footage and photos I take of people I skate with too. If somebody I’m filming with is working on a video, they should keep the clips or maybe put them toward somebody else’s project. I put a lot of time and effort into filming so putting a new clip directly onto Instagram seems to me like some value is lost. Although Instagram is great for people to see what your skating is all about, I like being a part of a video because it’s a big part of the experience we get from skating. The good—and bad—times we have travelling are important. They make the clips you get that much better. Most of my footage comes out in videos that people can own a copy of or watch online. It’s not the same these days with how big social media has become in skateboarding, but most of the time, video projects have more character and impact than an Instagram clip.
I think anybody can see that in 5Boro's videos, that it's a real group of people doing things, rather than just a bunch of dudes on their own. What videos were you watching when you were a kid?
When I was a kid I loved Emerica and Baker. And Toy Machine too, but I skated a lot of Baker boards and I loved Baker 3 and This Is Skateboarding. I would still say that was my favourite video that I grew up watching all the time; I just really love how it was put together by Jon Miner, it's fucking sick. Everybody in that video had sick parts, but Spanky was a really big influence on me, if I had to pick one person that I looked up to when I was younger. I thought that whole crew were so cool because that kind of skating that was big in the early 2000s.
Did you pay much attention to what was happening on the East Coast around that time?
Oh, definitely, but when I was stoked on the Baker and Emerica stuff, I was kind of too young to appreciate the East Coast shit as much as I do now. These days that's my main source of inspiration. Back then, when you're younger, you want to watch people jump down shit because you don't really understand how important style is, you know? "Oh that dude did a nosegrind, cool. But this guy's doing a kickflip front board down Hollywood High!" In your mind, when you're young, that's 'better'. You don't think about it style-wise as much. As you get older you understand why something's cool, why somebody looks good on a skateboard rather than some dude just doing a crazy trick. I'd rather watch somebody like Ricky Geiger who just has a sick style. But when you're younger you just want to see the big stuff!
What about now? Whose videos do you rate now?
I like the big videos that come out on Thrasher, but if I had to name a couple of things I'd say the Bust Crew videos...Gilbert Crockett and the Venue skateshop crew. They put out good shit, they skate all the time and they're all really fun dudes to be around. In Philly, Sabotage has done so much over the past ten years or so putting out four full length videos based around LOVE park. Out of New York, LurkNYC stuff is cool, Bronze 56k... I try to watch everything and there's just so much shit! What about a couple of people in New York whose skating I really enjoy? James Sayres is is killing it. Over at Theories dudes like John Baragwanath and Brian Powderly are fun to watch.
So do you keep up with everything? The Nine Club, Jenkem, Slap, all the other stuff?
Yeah, I look at all that stuff and listen to most the podcasts like the Bunt and Nine Club. Jenkem is usually refreshing. I never got into Slap message boards but I had a few mags when I was younger, haha! The amount of coverage these days is overwhelming but I still make the effort to stay up on it.
I was away for three days last week and I still haven't caught up yet.
It's so hard to keep up with. We all try to stay on top of it but I think I pay most attention to the people I know in person, the people I skate with, or other people I've met on trips who're doing cool shit. Like the out in San Francisco, the dudes in the the ‘Deep Fried’ videos, a lot of those guys are now in the GX1000 videos. My homie Jeff Carlyle always has really good footage come out in those. Everyone watches GX1000, but the Deep Fried crew is guys you don't see as much. It's cool to see more footage from people you don't see all the time in those big videos. Like Atlantic Drift too, the 'series videos' that are coming out these days rather than...
...the full-length board company video. It's filmer videos now.
Yeah, exactly. Filmer videos. I used to film a lot growing up and I still do, so I have a lot of respect for that. For the people who are just doing their thing and holding it down with the people they skate with. I think that's about as cool as it gets.
It's as close to real skateboarding as documented skateboarding can be. The amount of videos now means companies have to work harder to be identifiable. The big small companies kind push that. Like Bronze.
Yeah, Bronze is sick. They always put out good shit. They've got a stacked team, those dudes are killing it, and it's hard to not be a fan.
What's your favourite East Coast video part?
Jon Rowe, Politic x Venue. I still watch that all the time. Willy Akers part in Join or Die always gets me juiced to go skate. Any Ishod Wair part filmed VX never fails. Any Jimmy McDonald part.
Damn. I was expecting Ricky or somebody like that...
If we’re talking classic era, the Toy Machine videos, Welcome To Hell and Jump Off A Building. I grew up where Bam and Mike Maldonado are from, looking up to those dudes' legacy. I’d just watch their old parts all the time because they were like local guys for me. Mike Maldonado in Welcome To Hell, definitely.
Kerry Getz in Jump Off A Building?
Yeah! They rode for Fairman's. It's local history. They had a really good spot in skateboarding when they were coming up and it's cool that West Chester, Pennsylvania, got to be a part of that. Bam, Mike and Kerry. That shit's dope. Hanging out with Maldonado, and skating with him after being such a fan… He's definitely the people's champ. Remember Jimmy Chung? He's been skating a lot again recently and I’ve got to know him over the past few years.
Jimmy had a trick in one of your parts.
Yeah, he filmed a clip and that went into a VX part for 5Boro. He still learns tricks so that's pretty amazing to see. Pretty much all of those dudes still skate, and that inspires me a lot. Jimmy and Mike both had clips in that 5B part, and I was able to film Mike which felt pretty cool. But it's really cool that they all still skate and that I've gotten to know Mike and Jimmy pretty well. It's inspiration to keep it moving and pushing the East Coast shit.
What do you think about the physical format? For magazines or videos?
I pick up Skate Jawn and all the mags whenever I can. I like Thrasher, although most of the stuff I see from Thrasher is online, I still read the magazine when it’s there. I still enjoy having that copy, it's just cooler, you can revisit it. Same goes for videos, especially if it's something made by somebody I know, or if my friends are in it I'll buy the video. We say how much easier it used to be when everybody was on the same page and a couple of videos would come out each year. While one side is good because the progression is amazing that you see something new every day, it's harder to remember the cool shit that comes out. When you have a video and you've watched it a couple of times, that'll stick more than something on Instagram. I think it's still really important that people buy copies of videos because you can remember it.
Single tricks don't really tell much of the story. It's like you were saying about being a kid just wanting to see the biggest shit... Now we want to see what else the dude does, how he pushes, all that.
Pretty much. When I started skating, it was big handrails. I started at a pretty young age but it wasn't until after a couple of years that I started paying attention to videos and magazines. The first couple of years when you start skating, you're not plugged into the industry or anything, you're just trying to figure it all out. Everyone was skating handrails and stairs, so that's what I started trying to do. That was just what was going on at the time, but then when that levelled off I tried to move away from that kinda stuff, even though I was good at skating rails. When you get older you can't really do that as much as when you’re younger so you want to pay attention to aspects of skateboarding that you can still do without killing yourself as you get older, without jumping down these giant gaps! I pick my battles when it comes to skating rails and stuff like that.
As well as filming videos, you shoot film photos. What's the appeal of film photography to somebody who didn't grow up in the film era?
I had a VX and after filming people for so many years, I thought about how I'd never shot a lot of photos and had little insight into that whole process. I wanted to shoot photos that weren't just on my phone. I think it's more skilful when you can actually take a photograph, you know? Ha! Even if it's nothing fancy I'd want to take pictures of stuff that's going on while we're out skating, and that turned into me shooting photos of people doing tricks. It's all pretty basic stuff, I don't have a crazy camera set up. I have a very simple point-and-shoot camera. I actually just bought a new one last week, I got a Canon AS35M. So basically an auto-focus, 35mm Canon. If someone's doing a trick I'll shoot that, but if people are just chilling I'll shoot that too. I just like documenting stuff, on video or photo. It's just something I've always been interested in. Everybody in skateboarding does that anyway. It's natural to get into. I have so many pictures of people and things that I haven't done anything with but I'm so glad I took those photos, because I'll actually remember it rather than it just being on Instagram.
Are you a nightmare to shoot and film? Are you directing the person with the camera?
Oh, no. I'm pretty easy going. I mean if someone's right in the way, I'll ask them to move because I don't want to hit them, but otherwise I want to just let people do what they do. I've gotten to know a lot of people through filming and shooting photos. I met Graham [Tait], and now I've met you, and it's just cool to meet people who are into it. When it all comes together, that's the best part about it. Like a video premiere, where everybody comes out, and all the people that were out there with you are now watching it finished together. I think that still needs to happen a lot. It's still happening, but I don't know if the kids are on the same page!
Have you ever played in a band? You sound like you play an instrument.
I wish! I'm a pretty big music fan. I feel like that's what I would've done if I hadn't been skating. I would have tried to play an instrument. I have friends who play in bands, some I grew up skating with, and it's a lot like skateboarding. Lots of travelling, and making an album is like making a video part. I feel I could have easily ended up doing that if I didn't stick with skating. I've always been into music and going to shows.
What was the last show you saw?
The last big one I saw was Peter Hook’s band performing in Philly. they played the Substance album so it was basically a New Order show! Before that, my friend Tim has a band called Lester and they played in Queens. He plays drums and I'd always go to his shows growing up, and he'd always come to skate events. He's as into music as I'm into skating. It's cool having friends who aren't skateboarders but live pretty much the same way we do.
Do you follow UK skateboarding?
My mom is from Ireland, originally. She was born and raised there. The scene there is really small, so the skating coming out of the UK that I pay attention to is usually from England. Like when Chris Mulhern made This Time Tomorrow, a lot of dudes from England are in that video… Lucien Clarke, Steph Morgan, Rory Milanes, those English skateboarders really stuck out to me. I thought it was really cool and it made me want to go to England and skate these spots because it looks like a grittier Philly or New York.
I'm pretty sure that's why so many UK people grew up paying such close attention to East Coast stuff. It was harder to relate to some dude on a perfect surface in the sun; we wanted to see somebody pushing over a wet manhole cover in traffic on a rough street because that's what we had to do. Stuff here's hundreds of years old, and out in LA everything's new. I'd still rather see anything R.B. Umali filmed at 2am than any Ty Evans 4K drone footage.
Yeah. And Dan Wolfe, who made the Eastern Exposures and Sub Zero video, he's from West Chester too! It's pretty crazy. I mean Dan pretty much pioneered the East Coast video.
Everybody talks about EE3, which is one of the greatest videos ever, but that Sub Zero video was really good.
I'm a huge fan of Matt Reason, and Sergei [Trudnowski]. Even the lesser-known Sub Zero dudes that you don't hear so much about, like Eric Ruwadi or A.J. Mazzu. Sergei is from Pennsylvania, he's from Reading, a small city not too far from where I grew up, Then there's Ricky O, obviously... But yeah, Dan Wolfe being from West Chester and moving to Philly really sparked it off. I also got to give a major shout out to Joe Hiddleson, who filmed a lot great stuff from Jump Off A Building and some of Maldonado’s epic clips in Welcome To Hell. He did a lot that people don't hear about because it’s usually associated with Dan Wolfe or Jamie Thomas. But Joe filmed a lot of legendary stuff and he never really gets the shine for it! People like to chalk it up to a few people, but there were so many others involved. I like hearing about all these people, who either left skateboarding, or they just weren't really around past the '90s. I try to know the history.
It's cool when you get to speak to one of those dudes nowadays.
For real, like Jimmy Chung left skating in '96, and he started up again a few years ago. He was away from it for almost twenty years, and now that he's back people want to support his skating. That's a real-life example of someone who's been gone for a long time, came back and is now, arguably, skating better than he ever did, which is pretty cool to witness first hand. Me and him got tight when he came back to skating. He takes care of his family and his house, so he has a normal life but he still makes a lot of time to skate these days.
What are you doing today? And for the next while?
There's snow on the ground so not really doing much here. I'm going to Puerto Rico next month for ten days. As far as the rest of the year... We're working on a 5Boro video, so that will come out at some point. I'm just gonna be skating New York a lot, skating the East Coast, and taking trips. I love taking trips when I have the time and I'm not working. I want to visit Graham in Scotland! I have European citizenship.
That's cool. Obligatory shout-outs?
I want to give a shout out to Mark Nardelli at 5Boro for holding the company down and doing everything he can for me, as well as Tombo Colabraro for everything over the years while I was coming up to the city. 5B crew far and wide. James and everybody at Labor skate shop. At Dial Tone my homie Jovi Bathemess has been helping me out with wheels. Keith Denley at Nike has been helping me out too. Vern Laird at Bones, Just all my friends in New York, Philly, and West Chester who are down for skating. There are too many people to name!